Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Frozen fishing: Arctic moratorium

A fishing boat in the ice-filled waters off Greenland. The agreement bans commercial fishing in the disputed waters further north in the Arctic Ocean A fishing boat in the ice-filled waters off Greenland. The agreement bans commercial fishing in the disputed waters further north in the Arctic Ocean Yongyut Kumsri
27 Jan
2018
A multilateral moratorium prevents Arctic Ocean fishing for 16 years, setting aside some degree of sovereignty disputes while scientific research of the top of the world continues

In December, the EU, the US, Russia, China, Canada, Japan, Iceland, Denmark and South Korea – all with interests in the Arctic – agreed an official moratorium on commercial fishing across an area of 2.8 million sq km in Arctic Ocean waters. While there is as yet no commercial fishing taking place at this high latitude anyway, the 16-year moratorium insists that even as the waters become increasingly accessible for fishing vessels, the fish stocks must remain untouched, allowing relevant scientific research to continue uninterrupted.

In 2016, the Arctic sea ice minimum – a measurement showing when the sea ice extent is at its lowest each year – declined to just 4.14 million sq km, the second-lowest ever recorded. While individual years may fluctuate (2012 remains the record lowest sea ice minimum, down to only 3.41 million sq km), overall the annual minimum Arctic sea ice has declined by 13.2 per cent per decade since 1980. This has created ever-larger expanses of ice-free Arctic Ocean, resulting in debates over everything from potential shipping routes to mineral exploitation. The new moratorium places a hiatus on the ownership of fish stocks also being up for debate.

‘One of the important things to realise is that [the agreement] really does only cover the central Arctic Ocean, the high seas section,’ highlights Robert Headland, a senior associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge. ‘Most of that, for much of the year – even in the height of summer – is ice-covered, and you require serious vessels to get through it.’

As Headland explains, many of the seas surrounding the Arctic Ocean – from the Barents Sea, north of Russia, to the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska – have had established fishing industries for a long time, which won’t be affected by this moratorium. Therefore, he views the agreement as ‘a precautionary principle,’ arguing that the 16-year moratorium will mean ‘fixing it before it’s broken,’ preventing Arctic fish stocks from becoming irreversibly depleted.

Headland points to both the 1920 Spitsbergen Treaty and the 1959 Antarctic Treaty as case studies where geopolitical tensions regarding which countries could claim sovereignty over the polar regions were eventually settled by agreed treaties, and believes the same could potentially be done for the Arctic. ‘The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is working, and could be a nice model for the Arctic,’ he predicts. ‘The Antarctic Treaty owed a lot to the Spitsbergen Treaty, so the two polar regions have set precedents for each other. I see advantages for CCAMLR being adapted for the Arctic, because the biological problems are essentially similar.’ 

This was published in the February 2018 edition of Geographical magazine.

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Geophoto

With the recent Saddleworth Moor fire, it can be easy…

Wildlife

Whale sharks have been found to not travel far from…

Wildlife

The Lone Star tick is spreading across North America, carrying…

Tectonics

Earlier this week, Indonesia was struck by a series of…

Energy

Efforts to reduce the energy drain of the internet are…

Energy

Coal’s rising popularity among climate-apathetic leaders is a worrying trend,…

Climate

Sharing the ideas of climate justice with a little humour…

Polar

Rising bedrock under the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could prevent…

Oceans

Officially declared the world’s ‘most overfished sea’, the Mediterranean is…

Wildlife

An interview with biologist Chris D Thomas, author of ‘Inheritors…

Geophoto

Some may see using the 50mm lens as a regressive…

Oceans

With the war against plastic gaining publicity and popularity, one…

Wildlife

India’s booming domestic dog population is attacking some of the…

Energy

Soaring sales of air conditioning units over the next thirty…

Climate

Well-meaning promises and actions don't always have the best outcomes.…

Geophoto

With the days at their longest and more light in…

Oceans

Tourism might be an economic pillar for many countries surrounding…

Wildlife

Brain sizes directly shown to correlate to survival rates among…

Wildlife

Celebrated author Professor Tim Birkhead provides a fascinating insight into…

Oceans

The world’s most biodiverse seagrass region – Indonesia’s Coral Triangle…